Posts Tagged ‘precut and prefab’

Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In Fall 2002, I was broke, depressed, lonely and very worried about the future. Months earlier, my beloved mother had died unexpectedly and my marriage of 24 years had ended in divorce.

Those were tough times.

I had one thing going for me: My newly published book, The Houses That Sears Built.

Working 100-hour weeks, I did nothing but promote that book and send out free copies to local media outlets. I slept and I worked. There wasn’t time or money for anything else.

If the book didn’t start selling fast, I’d have to do something I dreaded: Get a real job, and jobs in Alton, Illinois were tough to find.

Sometime in late 2002, I drove around Ferguson, Missouri and found a few Sears Homes. I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten how it unfolded from there, but I hooked up with a local architect and history lover named Alan. He put me in touch with a couple folks from the city of Ferguson. In time, I was hired to do a survey of the kit homes in the city of Ferguson.

Alan drove me around to the different neighborhoods and it was great fun. Most of what I knew about architecture came from reading books. Alan graciously answered my many simple questions about architecture. I will always remember his kindness and patience.

After I’d identified a few kit homes,  the city had a lovely ceremony, and each Sears Home owner was presented with a beautiful plaque. I was invited to be part of the presentation ceremony.

It was a lovely memory for so many different reasons.

First and foremost, the folks in Ferguson - homeowners, Alan the Architect, city officials and employees  - showed me so much kindness and respect.

Secondly, this was my rubicon.

My divorce had been heart-breaking, but this experience in Ferguson showed me that my work had value and my life had purpose, and that there were people in the world who shared my passion for these old houses.

Some time later, the kit homes in Ferguson were featured on “Show Me St. Louis” (a popular TV show),  and that also warmed the cockles of my heart, and gave me new hope that I could make a career out of this vocation.

In subsequent years, my book and I have been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, NPR, BBC Radio, and many more. I’ve traveled to 25 states doing surveys and giving talks.

But it all started with the grace and kindess of the many fine folks in Ferguson.

That’s why I love Ferguson so much.

BTW, if you know the addresses of these homes or even street names, please send me a note or leave a comment.  When I did this survey, I didn’t know much about the other kit home companies. I’d love to come back and do a more thorough survey.

Lastly, these images are from 12-year-old slides. The colors are off and the images are grainy.


One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in St. Louis is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country, and these were only placed in areas where sales had been strong. And once a Modern Homes sales center opened, sales were even stronger!

One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in the St. Louis area is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country.


And in the early 30s,

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in communities where sales were strong.



Sears Walton as seen in the 1928 catalog.



I remember the homeowner here was just THRILLED to learn she had a Sears House!



The Lebanon was a popular house for Sears (1921 catalog).



Lovely Lebanon in Ferguson. Notice the placement of the door next to the one window.



Sears Marina (1916)



A perfect Marina in Ferguson.



The Sears Lexington was one of their biggest and most expensive homes.



Initially, I'd missed this stately Lexington hiding behind the hedge, but this IS a Lexington!



Nice comparison of the Lexington entryway. Although it's somewhat obscured, you can see the fan light in the 1928 image. The details on the porch are spot on!



Sears Barrington (1928).


Pattern book

Although I initially identified this as a Barrington, I'm starting to wonder if it is a pattern book house. These many years later, I do not remember if we went inside this house.


Gordon Van Tine

In addition to Sears Homes, I also found a Gordon Van Tine home in Ferguson.



Very distinctive house!


Ferguson House

The porch has been enclosed, but this is a lovely GVT #605 in Ferguson.


Spent years

I have spent many years trying to identify this house. I've yet to find it in any pattern books, kit house catalogs or magazines. But hey - it's only been 12 years. I'm still looking!


To read about the kit homes I found in Kirkwood, click here.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.


A Magnolia in Alton, Illinois?! Sort Of!

September 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

About 1999 or so, my [then] husband and I went to an open house in Alton, Illinois where we saw a darling house.

Last month, while I was looking through a 1952 Aladdin Homes catalog, I [re]discovered that darling house! The house my husband and I had toured in 1999 was actually an Aladdin kit house, “The Magnolia.”

In other words, this house - from Aladdin Homes in Bay City Michigan - came from a mail-order catalog and was shipped to the Alton train station in a box car. The house arrived in about 10,000 pieces and came with a detailed instruction book and a promise that an average fellow could have the house assembled in 90 days.

For the next few days, I really struggled to remember where I’d seen that house, and to the best of my recollection, it was not far from our home in Upper Alton (on Pine Street). Memory can be fickle, but I’d bet money that we saw the house on a little cross street not far from Edwards Street.

In 2006, I left Alton and moved to Norfolk, VA (which makes it harder to find kit homes in Southwestern Illinois).

Last week, I was in Alton visiting family and put more than 80 miles on my rental car, criss-crossing the short streets in Upper Alton. I had Garmin set on “slime trail” so that it left a light-blue line on every street that I traversed. (Have I mentioned how much I love my Garmin?)

Despite driving throughout this area many times over a course of several days, I never did find the Aladdin Magnolia. Now I’m starting to wonder if I saw this house in Godfrey (next door to Alton).

This Magnolia would have been built in the early 1950s, and when we saw it in 1999, it looked much like the house shown in this image. In other words, it had not been “remodeled,” so it should be easy to find. I distinctly remember the oversized living room window and the cantilevers under that second-floor balcony. I also remember the scalloped trim on that front gable.

But where is it?

Please leave a comment below if you know this home’s location. And please feel free to share this link with others who might know the answer to my mystery!



The cover of the 1952 catalog.

In 1952, sales of Aladdin kit homes were probably booming. Sears was out of the kit-house business and WW2 was over, and our nation came into a time of previously unknown prosperity and growth. (1952 catalog cover)


Boxcar stacking

One of my favorite images from the 1952 catalog is this line-drawing showing a "phantom box car." The sides of the box car were invisible to showcase the intricate stacking of 10,000 pieces of kit house (1952 catalog).


Alton has a Magnolia

Alton has a Magnolia, just like this, but where is it?


Altons Magnolia

Detail of the first floor. It's a small house, but has a half-bath on the first floor.


Alton FP

The second floor has three small bedrooms and an oddly-shaped bath tub.



Close-up of the Magnolia in Alton. Or is it Godfrey?



Whoever invented the "slime trail" feature of Garmin is my hero. Back in the day, I used maps and highlighters to figure out which streets I'd traversed. This shows the early hours of my search. By the time I left town Sunday night, almost every street in Upper Alton had the blue slime trail.


Have you seen the Magnolia in Alton? If so, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about my other discoveries in River Bend, click here.

To see pictures of my favorite Alton kit house, click here.

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